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TMCNet:  Advocates push for Medicaid expansion

[January 07, 2013]

Advocates push for Medicaid expansion

Jan 07, 2013 (Herald-Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- A community conversation designed to gather support for the expansion of Medicaid in Indiana will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday in the Monroe County Public Library auditorium.

"Our goal is to build support for a decision in favor of expansion," said Dr. Rob Stone, director of Hoosiers for a Commonsense Health Plan, which is co-sponsoring the event with the Bloomington-Monroe County League of Women Voters. "We feel expanding Medicaid is good for all of us." Stone and other community leaders will speak at the event, which Stone said he hopes will apply pressure to Gov.-elect Mike Pence and the Indiana General Assembly to expand the state Medicaid program to include more low-income Hoosiers.

Medicaid is the federal-state health program that covers nearly 60 million low-income and disabled Americans. Under the Affordable Care Act, states have the option of expanding Medicaid to include adults at or below 133 percent of the federal poverty level.

This week, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper announced that his state will expand Medicaid, becoming the 14th state plus the District of Columbia to do so.

Eight states have decided to turn down the Medicaid expansion, saying it will cost them billions of dollars. The federal government will pay the full tab for the Medicaid expansion when it begins in 2014, but after three years, states must pay a gradually increasing share that tops out at 10 percent of the cost.

More than half the country's states -- including Indiana -- have yet to decide whether they will expand the program.

"Governor-elect Pence would consider expanding Medicaid, provided we can use the innovative, consumer-driven Healthy Indiana Program as the coverage vehicle," Christy Denault, Pence's communications director, said Friday.

Stone is skeptical, saying, "I'm not sure how feasible it would be to expand the Healthy Indiana Plan, which covers about 42,000 Hoosiers, so it can cover 350,000 Hoosiers." Stone added that while there is no specified deadline for states to decide on Medicaid expansion, he strongly hopes the Indiana General Assembly will expand the program during this legislative session.

"The advantage of doing it this year is that for the first two years the program runs, the feds will cover almost 100 percent of the cost of expansion," he said. "Over 10 years it would bring an estimated $1.7 billion a year in federal money into Indiana's Medicaid program, so if we miss a year, we will forfeit a huge federal subsidy." Four months ago, Milliman Inc., Indiana's actuary, said it would cost the state about $2.6 billion over seven years if Medicaid is expanded, one of the main reasons Pence has said he has reservations about expanding the program.

But Stone said the Kaiser Family Foundation and Urban Institute released a different projection six weeks ago that said expanding Medicaid would cost Indiana less than $54 million per year over the next decade.

"Even if the state is spending $54 million a year, the federal government would be pumping $1.7 billion a year into Indiana's Medicaid program," Stone said. "The state has a surplus of money right now, so fiscally, this is a no-brainer." Stone said that if Indiana doesn't expand the program, many of the poorest Hoosiers would not be able to afford to buy the health insurance mandated by the ACA by Jan. 1, 2014. That's because the subsidized private coverage under Obamacare is available only to people making more than the poverty level -- $11,170 a year for an individual. For those beneath the poverty level, Medicaid is the only option.

"About 350,000 Hoosier adults who would have qualified for the new coverage would be left without required coverage and have no affordable way to obtain it," he said.

___ (c)2013 the Herald-Times (Bloomington, Ind.) Visit the Herald-Times (Bloomington, Ind.) at www.heraldtimesonline.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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